Before we’re underway, I wanted to start with a review of a short story. We won’t bother with the author or the location of its publication, but the story was accompanied by an interview with the author, who was trying to describe what she was trying to do. (And yes, that repetition is purposeful. As Yoda tells us, “Do or do not. There is no try.” She landed on the “do not” half of that formulation.) Anyway, it was an abysmal story about abysmal people. That seems to be this author’s forte. In her interview, she described a reviewer’s reaction to one of her prior stories: “one commentator said that she’d rather shove shards of glass underneath her fingernails than ever read the story again.” That’s a bit extreme, but only just.
That motif of the damaged hand appeared last week, but this week… well, I’d been wondering for a couple of weeks if this thing was going to happen, and on Wednesday, it did.
He still wouldn’t look up, but he hadn’t left the table, so I took another step. “I talked to your dad earlier this morning, before he went off to work. He said that you feel bad about my accident, and that you’re taking it pretty hard. I appreciate that, but accidents happen. That’s why they’re called accidents, because they aren’t anybody’s fault. You didn’t know that ladder was broken, right?”
I intended that space to let him have some peace, to agree with me that he hadn’t known, that it was all just an unfortunate mistake. But the space grew, the void filled the kitchen.
“You didn’t know, did you?”
He bolted then, ran out the door and off the porch, his mother screaming behind him, everyone on their feet, April out of the room and away. And then Ray let out a half-animal moan, and just made it to the kitchen sink before vomiting up her lunch. Sammi went to her, pulled her hair back, and I went out onto the porch. No sign of him anywhere, he was lost to the corn.
And a new project has emerged for Cale, one that will bring his family together, or do permanent damage. Hard to know. It came to him as an epiphany in the AmericInn motel on their way back from the farm to Minneapolis, after that explosion at the lunch table.
Since I was inert, I decided to look at the ceiling. Three different smoke detectors. Two different water stains. An unpainted drywall seam, the nailheads still dented and visible beneath the too-thin skim coat. Corrosion on the ceiling fan motor. Years of cobwebs and dust in the fins of the heating grille. It was probably just as well I couldn’t roll over, who knew what the bedcover and sheets would look like.
Why was it so hard to do work with care? Why was the world filled with Rollerbites and margaritas made with Mr & Mrs T mix? Why hadn’t Ray ever cleaned up all the junk equipment and returned the farmhouse to being a point of pride? Why was the world so filled with half-assedness?
And, in my half-oblivious, pain-infused misery, I suddenly knew the answer. Literally, it was like Saul blinded on the road to Damascus, I had a vision in its totality, and I was charged with bringing it into fullness before releasing it into the world.
When Sammi returned with soggy subs and a couple of bags of Sun Chips, I didn’t try to lay it all out for her at once. I knew it would scare her, that it would sound like the ravings of a concussive. I knew that this editing job would be the most important of my life. I had to get it right, in order to bring the team together.
I’ll take a couple of days away from it now, tomorrow for a civic event and Monday for returning rented tables and chairs and washing coolers from said event. We’ll see how it all feels on Tuesday.